Mark and Jennifer Landis of Fallbrook are going through a time that no parent should have to, living with the knowledge that one of their children is terminally ill. The couple learned on January 17 that five-year-old son Parker has a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer, specifically Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG).
“It’s completely devastating; no child in the world deserves this,” Mark Landis said in an interview with the Village News.
Parker’s diagnosis came about after his mother took him, along with little sister Taylor, to the doctor for what they thought were common maladies.
“When we picked Parker up from school (Bonsall Elementary) the day before, we were told he was asleep, which was odd,” said Mark. “The next morning he was feverish and one eye wasn’t opening completely, and at the same time our daughter appeared to have an ear infection, so my wife took them both in together.” It was thought at first that Parker may have contracted strep throat, but it ended up leading to a worse discovery.
Parker was sent to Palomar Hospital for tests, then to Rady Children’s Hospital. “It took me a while to sort it all out when the doctor talked to us,” Mark said. “Even when they found the mass (in his brain), it didn’t make any sense to me. The thought of cancer did not even occur to me.”
Mark said when the news “sank in” with understanding, he began to research treatments.
“Even radiation is considered palliative care; it’s not considered a treatment really,” he said. “It’s really grim.” (Palliative care is defined as specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from symptoms and the stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and family.)
Doctors told the Landis’ that Parker’s life expectancy may only be another nine months, despite a regimen of radiation treatments. Beyond that the only options are clinical trials.
Mark said he and Jennifer immediately took leaves of absence from their jobs to devote time to their son’s needs.
Neighbors of the family, who live in the Lake Rancho Viejo area of Fallbrook east of Interstate 15, and other caring community members, have embraced the family and catapulted into action to help raise money to offset some of the family’s expenses during this difficult time.
“Parker’s Carnival,” a fundraiser to help the family with their expenses will be held on Sunday, March 13, from 3 to 7 p.m. at Ingold Sports Park, 2551 Olive Hill Road, Fallbrook.
Organizers are asking for a $3 donation for admission to the event. Special attractions will include a Dunk Tank Challenge hosted by Bill Goldberg, former LA Ram and world champion wrestler. The plan is to have professional athletes and celebrities get wet for charity. Other entertainment will include a bounce house, obstacle course, game booths, and music. Food trucks will be on hand and a raffle and silent auction will be part of the event.
At the carnival, a Superhero Costume Contest will be held for those who would like to come dressed to compete.
Numerous organizations and volunteers have come forward to help with the carnival and spread the word about this family in need. And the family is grateful.
“We are still almost speechless; it’s just unbelievable,” Mark said. “We are so thankful to the community, and to Tish Herman, and everyone who is donating time and materials to make this happen. It makes us feel really good. It shows us that we are not alone. It means the world to us.”
Popular representatives of the community, North County Fire firefighters, visited Parker on Sunday, Feb. 21 and provided him with his own “turnout” (yellow firefighting suit).
“The firefighters held a mini-academy for him,” explained North County Fire public information officer John Buchanan. “They showed him how to use the fire hose, let him squirt some water, and did other activities with him.”
While the firefighters were there, Mark said, “They asked him what his favorite food was and also his favorite animal. He told them his favorite food was couscous and that he liked zebras. They came back to visit and brought him a stuffed zebra with a name tag on it that read ‘Couscous’.”
Meanwhile, Parker is enduring daily radiation treatments at Moores Cancer Center, with some days being better than others. The one-hour trip each day that is made to the hospital and back for the treatments is part of daily life now. And Parker’s only request is to enjoy an order of French fries on his way home.
“After he gets his French fries, he uses this little voice and says he is speaking ‘French fry,'” Mark said. “He talks about how he is taking a bath in ketchup.” In addition to moments of silliness, Mark said he son is quite insightful, and “more intellectual than athletic.”
Since Parker is scheduled for a total of 30 radiation treatments, at a rate of five per week, the therapy will consume six weeks. He finishes week three on Friday, March 4. After all sessions are finished, another decision will have to be made.
“At that time, we will have a choice – either to do nothing, or push forward and put him into clinical trials that are going on around the world,” Mark explained. “He has been feeling good the last few days and able to play with friends. But, as we watch him play, we realize at some point he won’t be able to do those things anymore. We are just trying to conceptualize how he is going to be.”
Mark said Parker does ask questions about his condition.
“We are being very honest with him,” Mark said. “He doesn’t know he has cancer, but knows he has a tumor. He doesn’t know his prognosis.”
The family is grateful for what they call the “outstanding level of care” Parker is getting.
“The technical and emotional support we have received is unbelievable,” said Mark. “We are so fortunate. We feel we have some of the best care available in the country.”
As for the way the community is wrapping its arms around this family in its time of need, Mark said, “This community is amazing. We are very touched by it.”
To read more about Parker and his family’s experiences, visit www.HopeforParker.com.